June 22, 2020

Will herdsmen plunge Nigeria into food crisis?

Fulani herdsmen wreaking havoc in Nigeria are foreigners, Baraje insists

File photo of a herder and his cattle

File photo of a herder and his cattle

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

ONE of the most worrisome developments in today’s Nigeria is what appears like a firm resolve by the Muhammadu Buhari administration to continue circulating the very distressing impression that it does not know how to solve the endless aggression being unleashed in different parts of the country by herdsmen who move and operate as if there are no laws in the land capable of containing the menace of troublesome people.

The soft targets of these herders are usually harmless and toiling farmers whom they gruesomely slaughter in their farms and innocent villagers whose homes, according to reports, they invade mostly in the middle of the night and set them ablaze. When people are suddenly roused from sleep by the raging inferno and run out in confusion, they are mowed down by the waiting assailants.

And despite the volume of media reports on the gory occurrences, nothing usually happens: no one will be arrested, tried and jailed. With no one raising a hand to protect or seek justice for them, the traumatised people will weep and get tired, quietly bury their dead; that is, if they are able to find their corpses and mourn them silently, probably, fearing that any noise from them might offend their killers and bring them back for more bloody exploits.

Then they will leave their village and move elsewhere in the neighbouring communities to seek shelter since their homes have been destroyed. They have become refugees in their own country for no fault of theirs. Soon, everybody else will retrieve their attention and empathy from them and refocus it on other things until the herders decide to launch the next bloody attack.

Now, both farmers and herdsmen are involved in private business. Why does it seem very difficult for government to compel the herders to confine their cattle in enclosed places so that farmers can also carry out their own business uninterrupted? How fair is it that after spending millions of naira (which are sometimes high interest loans waiting to be repaid) to raise a farm, the herders would brazenly swoop on it, unleash their cattle on the crops, and within a very short time, the entire product of the farmers’ sweat and resources would disappear into the stomach of the cows, leaving only the ones trampled upon by the animals which have been destroyed.

And if the farmers dare raise any complaint or attempt to stop the cattle from destroying their farms, the herdsmen would viciously attack and slaughter them, rape their wives and daughters before deciding to kill, maim or allow them to live with injuries. Later, if their bloodlust was yet to be assuaged, they will return in the wee hours for more havoc, which will culminate in the razing and sacking of the village. And nothing will happen afterwards!

Those who are able to survive the genocide will silently lick their wounds at whatever place they are able to find refuge. Yes, nothing will happen because these killers appear to enjoy some form of special immunity from the consequences of their actions.

The solution to this menace should have been very simple and straightforward if the Federal Government was impartial and sincere about achieving a fair and lasting settlement and ending the perennial bloody destructions. The first action that betrays its insincerity is the decision to dress up what is clearly brazen and remorseless aggressions against innocent and hardworking farmers with the misleading euphemism: “farmers-herders clashes”. So, if people are on their property and some others trespass into the place, cause willful damage and then proceed to kill and maim the owners for challenging or resisting them, is that the meaning of “clash” in the dictionary of the Federal Government of Nigeria?

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Even President Buhari knows that the most effective way to deter criminals in a civilised society is to arrest everyone that had committed an offence (no matter the motivation), subject him to trial in court and punish him. But his government has refused to do that in respect of the herdsmen.

It took a whole nine months to arrest the herdsmen that murdered the daughter of Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Fasoranti. It is even possible that they were arrested because of the status of the elder statesman involved, and the political implication of not doing anything about the perpetrators of the murder.

During his first term when the elders and leaders from Benue State visited him in Aso Villa in respect of the mass slaughter perpetrated by the herdsmen in their place, the president pleaded with them to try and restrain their people from undertaking a reprisal attack. And after that, what did the government do? Was anyone arrested or tried for the pogrom?

At another time, the president pleaded with them to “accommodate” their “brothers” (the killer-herdsmen) in their midst. Later in Jos, he said that he would pray to get a solution to the herdsmen menace. Imagine that! Indeed, it is very sad and destabilising that in a country not officially engaged in a war, no day passes without the media serving the citizenry the ugly and dizzying accounts of the gory exploits of suspected herdsmen across the country.

It would seem that for them, a day can only be regarded as fulfilling if they are able to smear the ground with some pints (or even gallons) of human blood. It is most shocking that they are always able to gratify this benumbing obsession with utmost impunity in a country governed by human beings.

It is true that beef is required as a source of protein for humans, but that is not the only thing that Nigerians feed on. The farmers need to work on their farms too to produce yam, cassava, vegetables, grains and several other food items for the consumption of the people. Cattle and these other farm products need not be mutually exclusive on the menu of Nigerians.

Both are required to achieve a balanced diet; so it would be foolish to think that one is more important than the other and that one should be destroyed in order to feed the other. Government should stop hiding behind one finger and hasten to compel the herders to confine their cows in enclosures and buy cattle feed to sustain them, while the farmers should be left in peace to work on their farms. This is only fair and just.  Herdsmen should be prevented from continuing to disturb  shed innocent blood in order to carry out their private business.

Reports that many farmers are now afraid to go to their farms due to the benumbing fear of being harassed, maimed, raped or even killed by armed herdsmen should seriously worry every well-meaning Nigerian. The farmers who are able to summon the courage to go to their farms are not even sure that their crops will not soon become food for the cattle. It is now farming season and what does this terrible situation portend for our country when the harvest time comes?

Will herdsmen plunge Nigeria into food crisis? Will Nigerians suffer starvation because government has chosen to pamper herdsmen (at the expense of the country’s food security) instead of reining them in? Why must land farming be sacrificed in order that cattle rearing may thrive?

Ejinkeonye, a journalist, wrote via [email protected]